Did Jesus come to abolish religion?
Well, it depends on how one defines “religion”. Everyone has their own definition, and ample connotations as well. The glossary from the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines religion as:
“A set of beliefs and practices followed by those committed to the service and worship of God. The first commandment requires us to believe in God, to worship and serve him, as the first duty of the virtue of religion.”
I think this is a definition most religious people would agree with. To put it another way, one could say that religion provides the form to our relationship with God. When I decide that I love Jesus Christ and I want to hand my life over to Him and live for Him, this must be expressed and lived out in certain ways in order for it to be genuine. I can’t just believe any old thing about Jesus, behave however I want, and worship Him however I feel like. There is a right and a wrong way to believe, and act, and worship. Religion establishes the right ways of doing these things so that I can give God the belief, worship, and service He deserves and requires from us.
Once religion is understood in this way, it’s easy to see that Jesus did not come to abolish religion. He specifically said, “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Mt 5:17). The Law established the religion of the Jewish people, and Jesus came to fulfill it, to make it what it was meant to be, not to do away with it. These words of His are very peculiar for someone who supposedly came to abolish religion.
Jesus Himself was a very religious person. He was circumcised. He was baptized. He celebrated the Passover and the other Jewish feast days. He worshipped in the synagogue. He followed the Ten Commandments. He prayed. He fasted. He went on pilgrimages. Following Christ means being religious, just as He was.
Like I said, Jesus is the fulfillment of the Jewish religion. He is also the creator of the Christian one. What emerged from the missionary activity of the apostles was not a loose collective of “spiritual” people doing whatever felt right for them. What we find is a religion — a specific way of relating to God, with a visible structure, with bishops, priests, and deacons, with sacraments, with commands to follow, with things to do and words to live by.
Contrary to those who disparage religion, the Bible tells us that there is a religion that is pure and undefiled before God (cf. James 1:27), one that has form and power (2 Tim 3:5). This religion is Catholicism, and everyone who claims this religion should be striving to help others to see what is so good, and true, and beautiful about Her.
Peace of Christ to you,
WIMM Board Member
Director of Religious Education, Blessed Mother Catholic Church
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